Have you met Angry Jane?

“Be prepared for rain” They said. “Take lots of bandaids for all the blisters” They warned. But no one ever warned me about the REAL challenge I would have to face when embarking upon the Overland Track… dealing with my overprotective father. I mean, I’m pretty sure I am a grown woman – 38 years of age would certainly qualify me for the status of Adult. But convincing my father of that and staying firm on my resolve to do the trek regardless of his opinion was actually the hardest part about doing this trek (yes, really!).

When I first booked the pass to hike the Overland Track in Tasmania it felt like it was going to be the hardest challenge I’d set myself to date. It was going to be more than 65km of walking and camping, alone, in the middle of the Tasmanian wilderness, miles from civilisation (even further depending on whether you consider Tasmania civilised. Just kidding Tassie, I love you!). After I made the very impulsive decision to book the trip, only about 12 hours after first discussing it with my husband, I actually thought “Shit, can I do this?” But as seems to be a recurring theme with my comfort zone challenges, the biggest challenge that I had to overcome and the lesson that I had to learn was not the one that I first anticipated.

Even before my Dad freaked me out. I did have some reservations about hiking all that way on my own. I worried whether my knees, my back and my morale would cope with walking an average of 15km per day, for 6 days, carrying 18kgs on my back. But I’d also done my research and over the years I’ve had plenty of experience hiking and camping, albeit with at least one other person. So, while I knew it would be challenging I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t spend the rest of my days living off berries and skinks in the Tasmanian wilderness. So, you can imagine my surprise when I got a text message/essay from my father telling me how irresponsible and dangerous it was to embark on such a venture, especially given that I had a husband, a young child and responsibilities at home (and those weren’t his exact words…)

Actually, surprise wasn’t how I felt at all. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I felt totally deflated about the whole trip, and I started to doubt myself and my ability to complete the challenge. “Is this too dangerous?” I thought. “Am I risking not seeing my daughter grow up?” “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.” After a little while though I got angry. Angry with myself for doubting my own abilities and also angry with my Dad. I wanted to call him back and shout at him. I wanted to tell him to Fuck off and tell him that I wasn’t a child anymore and he couldn’t tell me what to do.

Anger is my default defence mechanism you see. It tends to come up for me often when I feel most vulnerable: feeling hurt; rejected; or scared. So as you can imagine, comfort zone challenges seem to bring it out in me a fair bit (yup, I’m a total pleasure to be around). But as with all comfort zone challenges, it is in noticing your response to the challenge that you make the biggest breakthroughs. If any of you are familiar with Brene Brown’s work, in her book Rising Strong she introduces this concept as an SFD – Shitty First Draft.   She says that “….moving from our first responses to a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours give birth to key learnings about who are we and how we engage with others” I would also argue that recognising other people’s knee jerk responses also helps to bring a deeper understanding to your relationship with them.

Thankfully while I was in the throws of my SFD I resisted the urge to call or text back to my dad and tell him how I really felt – I’m sure it would have been super classy and super eloquent. After I calmed down and reflected on my own angry response I could then reflect on my Dad’s motivations. I know from my own angry, fly-off-the-handle responses that there is usually something else lurking beneath anyone’s SFDs. And even before I called my husband to vent (AKA: bitch) about my Dad’s response I could recognise a genuine fear and concern for my safety. Certainly he didn’t manage his own emotions as well as he should, but we’re all human, right? Thankfully rather than call back immediately and abuse him I could actually approach his response with some level of compassion. So, instead of calling him a wanker (which I SO wanted to do at the time – sorry Dad), I texted back saying “I know you’re concerned Dad, but I have done my research and I will be fine” and then after giving him some time to calm down we had a very adult conversation (who knew!!) about how I didn’t make the decision lightly and without the appropriate research or preparation. I also managed to openly, honestly (and hopefully somewhat tactfully) tell him that I was disappointed in his response and how his assumptions had hurt me.

A few weeks later, after the hike, we met for lunch and amazingly Dad turned to me and said “Janey, I owe you an apology.” Just… wow. I can’t tell you how much this blew me away. The thing is, apologising is hard. It makes you vulnerable – it makes you uncomfortable. But the fact that he apologised showed to me that he’d heard me and taken on board what I said and more importantly that he was willing to be wrong – to be vulnerable – for the sake of our relationship. Heck, maybe it’s my Dad who should be getting credit for this comfort zone challenge. And I can honestly say that from that honest and vulnerable place, our relationship has grown.

One of the greatest gifts that I have received as a result of pushing myself through these comfort zone challenges is how much closer it brings me to other people. Getting to know myself, observing my reactions to things that happen and opening myself up to the idea of improving has meant that my relationships with others become so much more open and as a result, more honest.   For so long I operated from a place of anger, blame and fear of being hurt. I put up walls around my heart or lashed out for fear of being hurt first. Unfortunately I know that in the past I may have hurt people, and while it was unintentional, it’s hard knowing I can’t change that now. All I can do, and all anyone can do, is to continue to reflect and learn from our experiences and to continue growing.

 

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The Ego And Connection

Amigos...
Amigos…

In Spanish the word Embarazada does NOT mean what you think it means. When I first started learning Spanish, I tried to explain to people that I was embarrassed when I spoke Spanish. Turns out that I was telling them that I was pregnant… when I spoke Spanish. Probably not the best way to encourage people to speak to me! It may have been those early experiences or just my fear of looking stupid that meant that I never really progressed past the basics of the language. But I never realised how much that fear held me back from making new connections.

As a reformed know-it-all I am mostly humble enough to know that I still have a lot to learn.  But having always valued the idea of being smart, it’s kind of hard to let that go. For some reason I’ve always attached my identity and my self-worth to my intelligence and therefore my ego was always dependent on how intelligent other people thought I was. But the ego is driven by fear, and I’ve found that fear never gets you very far.

I have always loved travelling, and I’ve always wanted to speak Spanish fluently, but my fear of other people thinking that I am stupid has always held me back. When I was in my late 20’s I managed to get around South America with what I knew, but also relied quite heavily on my now hubby, whose first language is Spanish. Being back in Australia I lamented the fact I would never learn it because I just didn’t have an opportunity to speak it (I now realise what a lame excuse that was). However, we moved house a couple of years ago and I discovered that our neighbours were from Colombia. How perfect I thought, I can practice my Spanish and I’ll be fluent in no time! But every time I spotted my neighbours I became a total weirdo: I avoided them, I tried not to make eye contact or I just pretended I was ‘really busy’ to avoid having to speak to them for any conversation that progressed past ‘Hola’. What is wrong with me I thought?

It was more than a year and a half later, as a result of making it a comfort zone challenge, that I actually stopped avoiding my neighbours and started practicing my Spanish. Jorge is one of my neighbours. He moved to Australia with his wife and two boys from Colombia without knowing anyone – literally (and not in the Kim Kardashian type of literally). A pretty brave move I thought, especially considering how many excuses most people give for not moving from Bondi to Manly. What’s more none of them spoke any English, apart from the most basic of words picked up from American sitcoms.

I found out that Jorge works in the mornings and evenings and so has the middle of the day free. As I don’t work Mondays and Fridays I also have a few hours spare in the middle of the day while my daughter naps. So I decided that I needed to invite Jorge for a coffee and a Spanish/English chat. So that I wouldn’t talk myself out of it I walked straight over there. As I got closer to his door my heart beat harder and harder and I started getting really nervous – what if he speaks Spanish to me and I can’t understand him? What if he thinks I’m stupid? There was no rational reason why I should have been nervous, Jorge is a really sweet guy, but that’s the monkey brain for you!

After my ridiculous psychosomatic overreaction, Jorge wasn’t even home! Gutted.  But I left a message with his wife and eventually we arranged a catch up. Jorge came over one Monday and I made him what was probably a pretty terrible coffee – I mean, is there any greater pressure than making coffee for a Colombian? And I’m a tea-drinker! Anyway, we started speaking in Spanish, and to my surprise the words actually came out quite easily (possibly because I had been practising certain phrases in my head for the past few days). There were definitely a few fumbled sentences and plenty of confused looks and clarifications, but for the most part I made myself understood and I understood Jorge.   The more we chatted the more words I started remembering and the more easily things flowed. I learnt more about him and about Colombia. I had finally made a connection with my upstairs neighbour after living so close for almost two years. How ridiculous that it took me so long.

After speaking Spanish for a while we switched over to English so that Jorge could practice his English. Once again, with all the fear I had about how I would sound or how I would feel I forgot that one of the best reasons for me to be doing this was that it was important to Jorge that he improve his English skills.  As it turns out Jorge’s level of English is around the same level as my Spanish, which made me think… I was not judging him for his level of English, why would he be judging my Spanish.  Why would I think that not being able to speak another language would make me seem stupid anyway?

While there is a lot that can be drawn from this particular comfort zone challenge there are two main lessons that I have taken from it. Both come from reflecting on my avoidance behaviour prior to doing the challenge. I guess you could say that it’s a kind of procrastination, a way of avoiding feeling the discomfort of awkwardness, or the fear of looking stupid. I always thought of procrastination as a result of being lazy, of not wanting to do the hard work. But the only reason the ‘work’ is hard is because it forces you to face a fear. Cleaning the house instead of studying? What are you afraid of?  Scrolling through Facebook instead of applying for that job? What are you afraid of? Sometimes I procrastinate when I’m meant to be writing a blog post – probably because of the fear that the words, the creativity, won’t come. The answer is there, you just have reflect and be open to hearing it.

The second realisation, which is tightly woven in with the first, was that if we let our fears control us then our behaviour closes us off from making connections. If I hadn’t pushed through my fear of looking stupid then I may to this day still be avoiding Jorge and his family and I would never have made the connection and learned more about him, his family and his culture. Humans so often fear the process of making a new connection, but in my experience a lack of connection with other people is a major driver of unhappiness.

Jorge and I have agreed to regular coffee dates so we can practice speaking our respective second languages. As a result I’m not only learning a new language but strengthening a new connection and learning so much more about myself as well.

Do you procrastinate? I’d love to hear how – and maybe even why, if you are open to sharing.

Hasta la vista,

Jane xx

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